9 Budapest Restaurants With Top Modern Hungarian Food

In part thanks to foreign-trained local chefs, the past decade has brought a gastronomic revolution to Budapest—slimmer menus, inventive recipes, and healthier ingredients are replacing the gut-busting plates of the communist era. A word to the wise: many of these places offer a weekday lunch prix fixe for a fraction of the regular prices. And if you prefer to stick to old-school, traditional Hungarian dishes, try these restaurants.

#1 Borkonyha (Winekitchen) Restaurant

Borkonyha (Winekitchen) is a high-end restaurant in Budapest's downtown, serving pan-European fine dining dishes and over 200 types of Hungarian wines. The executive chef, Ákos Sárközi, applies inventive techniques to locally-sourced ingredients and puts out colorful, almost artistically visual plates.

#2 Stand25 Bistro

When in 2017 Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll (a European Bocuse d'Or winner and celebrity-chef in Hungary) announced that they were leaving the Michelin-starred Onyx restaurant to venture out on their own, one didn’t need a business degree to predict success. The idea of Stand25 Bistro was to prove that traditional Hungarian fare can be more than a high-carb, greasy affair. The restaurant's success was immediate: a well-heeled local office crowd and tourists fill Stand25's small tables inside the Hold Street market-hall-turned food-court in downtown. In 2018, the restaurant won a Bib Gourmand by Michelin.

#3 Olimpia Restaurant

You will need to trek out to the outer part of District 7, a working class Budapest neighborhood, to experience the elaborate meals prepared by chef Ádám Csaba at Olimpia Restaurant. Instead of a fixed menu, they use a blackboard to present the daily-changing dishes, which vary based on seasonal ingredients. The result? Absolutely superb.

#4 Csalogány 26 Restaurant

Balázs Pethő, the executive chef of family-run Csalogány 26 Restaurant, was a pioneer of Hungary's contemporary food revolution. A whole crop of younger cooks, many of them established head chefs now, learned the ins and outs of haute cuisine under Pethő's tutelage at a time when comically backward, communist-era practices reigned supreme in Budapest kitchens. Pethő's exceptional skills best show through in the five-course dinner tasting menu.

#5 Fricska Gastropub

After training at well-known Budapest restaurants, two young, local chefs, Andor Giczi and Szabolcs Nagy, ventured out on their own, opening Fricska restaurant in 2014. Since then, Fricska has earned a reputation for serving tasty modern Hungarian dishes, and it also won a Bib Gourmand award. The restaurant is on the far end of the party district, inside a below-ground space that manages to be cozy despite the lack of natural light.

#6 Paletta Budapest

Many contemporary Budapest restaurants claim that they serve “modern Hungarian food,” but often that's just a catch-all phrase to justify their inflated price points. At its best, modern Hungarian fare is a coming-together of traditional recipes, local ingredients, and a 21st century approach to plating and flavor combinations. This is pretty close to what you will find at Paletta, a family-owned restaurant in Budapest’s District 9, a bit outside the city center.

#7 Bock Bistro

In 2004, Bock Bistro was among the first Budapest restaurants to push the boundaries of traditional Hungarian food. Executive chef Lajos Bíró proved that contemporary cooking techniques, top ingredients, and a little boldness can jolt into the 21st century some centuries-old national dishes. For example, that crumbs of celery roots add a welcome freshness to the goulash soup (€5). That the paprikash is just as good when made with beef tenderloins. That a beautifully-plated lecsó (€8) tastes better than one served carelessly.

#8 La Perle Noire

You will need leave the city center to unearth La Perle Noire, a high-end restaurant serving French and revamped Hungarian dishes. It's on a quiet section of Andrássy Avenue, Budapest's Champs-Élysées, peppered with residential villas and embassies inside District 6. The cute modernist building from 1937 that houses the restaurant (and also a hotel upstairs) stands out from the predominantly 19th century street view.

#9 Zeller Bistro

Zeller is a wildly popular restaurant in Budapest's downtown. Upon arrival, all guests are handed a complimentary Prosecco—albeit slightly flat and presented without much enthusiasm—before being led to one of the four indoor dining rooms. The best place to sit is in the light-filled interior courtyard topped with a sky window and featuring plenty of greenery. All tables comes with doodle-inspiring paper and colored pencils.

Rankings are based on a combination of food/drink, atmosphere, service, and price. The author visits all restaurants incognito.